‘You Better Hike the Stowe Trail in Santee Before Fanita Ranch Is Built and It’s Too Late’

by on July 10, 2020 · 14 comments

in Environment, San Diego

View from Stowe Trail near Santee during the winter. Photo courtesy of PreserveWildSantee.org

HomeFed Corp. Plans 3,000-Unit Development in Santee

By Colleen Cochran

The threat of bulldozers spurred me to hike the Stowe Trail in northern Santee. The stretch, that leads from Santee Lakes through Sycamore Canyon on Fanita Ranch, is one of the last havens for endangered Quino checkerspot butterflies, creatures that once fluttered abundantly throughout San Diego County skies, and for endangered least Bell’s vireo songbirds.

Because I had been hearing a lot of news about HomeFed Corporation’s plans to ravage the area by constructing Fanita Ranch, a development of 3,000 units of multistory townhouse boxes, I decided I better go on that hike before it becomes too late.

This past Saturday, I arranged to meet my friend, Nancy, at the very northern end of Fanita Parkway, which is where I had heard the Stowe Trail begins. It is there that Fanita Parkway transforms from bustling thoroughfare to quiet country road. So quiet in fact, that Nancy and I, while still seated in our separate cars in the middle of the road, managed to hold a few minutes of conversation concerning our guesses as to where the entrance to the trail might be, and no cars drove up to beep us out of the way.

On the west side of Fanita Parkway, we saw Santee Lakes Campground, an idyllic hideaway filled with families happily swimming and fishing, and on the other, houses atop a hillside. It took us a bit to find the sign demarking the entrance to the trail, which was located aside the Padre Dam Municipal Water District building. A dusty trail and a sea of green lay before us, and we set off.

The trail led Nancy and me to a world where wild flowers abound and creatures chirp, flutter, and buzz, and the air smells clean. A yellow striped snake sunbathing on the path spotted me first and quickly wiggled into some brush, so that I only caught a fleeting glimpse of it. I did a Google search later that day, and I think it was a California striped racer. Some mountain bikers were using the path too, but largely, we had the Stowe Trail to ourselves.

The Fanita Hills, as the region is sometimes called, is home to coyotes, mountain lions, gray fox, and 18 other mammal species, 21 types of reptiles and amphibians, and over 100 bird species. My friend, Van Collinsworth, Director of PreserveWildSantee.org, told me that if we were to have hiked further, we would have felt as if we had stepped back in time because there would not have been a trace of anything manmade in sight, save the occasional flying airplane.

We would have seen the precious vernal pools, rare only because 98 percent of them have been destroyed due to San Diego County development. Within them live some of the last remaining San Diego fairy shrimp.

If HomeFed’s Fanita Ranch development is built, the sleepy northern end of two-lane Fanita Parkway will be turned into four lanes, two in each direction, with a raised strip in the middle. The speed limit will be increased from 40 to 50 mph, although I very much doubt drivers will be able to reach that top speed most hours of the day, since the only ways in and out of the Fanita Ranch complex will be via Fanita Parkway or Cuyamaca Street, and there will be 8,000 residents, an additional 15 percent of Santee’s present population, using those roads.

More likely, these new Santee residents will be spending a good portion of their days idling in their cars as they wait to cross over or onto Mast Boulevard.

Construction noise will replace the chirps and buzzes of nature’s creatures, so Santee Lakes Campground will become a far less enticing destination. In its Environmental Impact Report (EIR), HomeFed promised to mitigate construction noise by putting in place a sound barrier wall. Campers will, however, still be left with fumes, dust, and loss of views of greenery, and they will no doubt still hear the construction noise too.

The construction, which will go on for 15 years, will leave present Santee residents enduring streams of trucks going through their area, endless noise, and dusty air. Air quality won’t just be reduced during construction, it will be reduced forever. In the end, citizens will have lost the lovely natural barrier that gave their city its hometown feel, only to have it replaced with hunks of walls, gates, parking lots, and unsightly clone houses.

All citizens throughout San Diego County will be negatively impacted by the development. Because the Fanita Ranch area is an essential biological reservoir linking adjacent open spaces protected by the county’s Multiple Species Conservation Program, users of Mission Trails Park can expect to see a depletion in wildlife. Vistas throughout the region will be destroyed, air quality will worsen, and traffic will increase.

Traffic on Mast Boulevard, already the stuff of commuters’ nightmares, will become horrific. The impact of this traffic will be felt on West Hills Parkway and Mission Gorge Road, all the way down through Allied Gardens and Grantville.

HomeFed promises to add an extra lane at the Mast entrance to SR-52, but that remedy will not prove apt to counteract the load of traffic that is going to infect that highway. Some commuters will seek relief by using the I-8, so traffic will worsen on that highway as well.

Santee City Councilman Stephen Houlahan and Van Collinsworth of PreserveWildSantee.org have put together the General Plan Protection Initiative that would enable citizens to vote on whether they want Fanita Ranch, a project that vastly exceeds size parameters set forth in the Santee General Plan.

Unfortunately the Santee City Council, most of whose members are more beholden to the Building Industry Association than their own citizens, used a “study” to delay the Initiative vote from 2018 until November of 2020, thus providing opportunity for a contested “approval” of the megaproject ahead of the Initiative vote.

Santee citizens are fighting city council’s underhanded scheme, and citizens throughout the county can join them in their efforts by sending emails that voice their concerns about Fanita Ranch. Their letters will go on the record, potentially reviewed by a judge, should the situation evolve into a court battle.

While county residents are waiting to hear the results of their efforts, I suggest they take a walk along Stowe Trail. If HomeFed has its way, one day soon, the trail will be transformed to noisy suburban sprawl.

Comments can be sent to Chris Jacobs, Principal Planner City of Santee, of the EIR: cjacobs@cityofsanteeca.gov

______________________________________________________
Colleen Cochran, JD, is a legal editor, nature enthusiast, PB resident and warrior against climate change.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar F Razo July 11, 2020 at 8:54 am

Can someone please make information available as for how we can join the opposition to these senseless plans to destroy our community lungs because of the greedy and corrupted deires for profit by a group of politicians and greedy developer?

Thank you very much for your attention.

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Avatar Colleen Cochran July 11, 2020 at 2:58 pm

Hi F Razo, according to the Preserve Wild Santee organization, the best to get involved at this moment is to send comments regarding the project, by 5 pm, July 13, to Chris Jacobs, Principal Planner City of Santee, at cjacobs@cityofsanteeca.gov. You might also direct any comments to savefanita@gmail.com and post to PreserveWildSantee Facebook page.

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Avatar Jess July 11, 2020 at 11:42 am

Also, if you are going to hike the Stowe trail, you need to apply for a permit with the Marines. They do patrol & they will ticket. The trail crosses military land & a few years back SDMBA helped negotiate an arrangement to allow recreational users to use the land. Just FYI

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Avatar Mike July 11, 2020 at 1:45 pm

This has to be one of the most ridiculous doomsday scenarios I have read regarding the HomeFed Fanita Ranch project. Multiple inaccuracies and omission of all amenities that the project will offer my city and all county residents. A project that will preserve 76% of the land forever. A planned community farm for Santee residents, orchards, restaurants, a small grocery store, a new fire station and a new school if our Santee School district wants one. There are also over 35 miles of new and public trails planned for Fanita Ranch. The trail this op-ed writer hiked was on private property where she would have been considered to be trespassing if it weren’t for HomeFed granting us use of their trail on their property. I appreciate the concern from this Pacific Beach resident and I admire the creative writing but it seems she knows little to nothing about this project except for the talking points fed to her from the special interest Political Action Committee that seeks an alternate plan for Fanita Ranch.

“multistory townhouse boxes” FALSE

“we saw Santee Lakes Campground, an idyllic hideaway filled with families happily swimming and fishing” Idyllic—yes, swimming—no—there is NO water contact allowed at Santee Lakes.

“the sleepy northern end of two-lane Fanita Parkway will be turned into four lanes, two in each direction, with a raised strip in the middle.” FALSE–Fanita Parkway in this area will be a two lane divided road. One going in and one coming out. WATCH: https://vimeo.com/400778769

“Unfortunately the Santee City Council…used a “study” to delay the General Plan Initiative vote from 2018 until November of 2020”. OPINION—The responsibility of making certain that this initiative was placed on the 2018 ballot was that of the proponents of the initiative. Poor planning and time management postponed the date that this was placed on the ballot. Our City Council wisely chose to conduct a study showing the financial impacts of this initiative. The study shows that this initiative will have a negative impact on the finances of our city. https://www.cityofsanteeca.gov/home/showdocument?id=17093

“Santee citizens are fighting city council’s underhanded scheme…” FALSE—we are fighting a Political Action Committee that seeks an alternate plan for Fanita Ranch and does so by dividing our community with rubbish like this op-ed.

If you want to learn facts about the project, go to http://www.fanitaranch.com

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Avatar Colleen Cochran July 11, 2020 at 7:37 pm

See response in comments below.

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Avatar Nanci Kelly July 11, 2020 at 2:55 pm

I find it imperative to address the overarching issue that is driving land use controversies, particularly given the juxtaposition of this article preceded by, “After 2 Major Missteps…”. I have lived in OB since ’71. I have always appreciated the urban/wilderness characteristics of San Diego county. In 1972 I supported, and have always supported, the 30-foot-height limit west of 5. I have responded to density issues on the OBPB and other venues. I have also been a student of, and activist regarding, climate change and its impacts on ALL facets of life on our planet, for several years. And it has me facing the very painful realities that we will all face – and engaging in difficult rethinking. I was a college student when I moved here; I am now a grandmother of two young girls who will be inheriting the mistakes we have made – in great part due to the unwillingness of elected officials to respond to the climate experts testifying to congress in the ’80s. Once we finish with our legitimate fights (as well as our usual mud fights) regarding another development that will create urban sprawl and devastate the habitat we all claim to value, we will still be left with this (non democratic/republican) fact: given that climate change deterioration (impacted by population growth) will continue to plague our children/grandchildren in the absence of immediate, extensive action, how will we contribute to the solutions? You can’t rail against the Fanita Ranch project AND the Midway project and not offer a solution that will mitigate the effects of climate change. This is why we are where we are on these issues.

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Avatar Colleen Cochran July 11, 2020 at 3:54 pm

Hi F Razo, according to the Preserve Wild Santee organization, the best to get involved at this moment is to send comments regarding the project, by 5 pm, July 13, to Chris Jacobs, Principal Planner City of Santee, at cjacobs@cityofsanteeca.gov. You might also direct any comments to savefanita@gmail.com and post to PreserveWildSantee Facebook page.

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Avatar Colleen Cochran July 11, 2020 at 7:11 pm

Below are both author’s responses to this rebuttal, as well as Van Collinsworth’s responses, as gathered from the author’s additional interview with him.

The 76% preserve. Author: Set forth in the EIR, and none of it sounds good to me: HomeFed will attempt to salvage important plants, like Coulter’s saltbush and San Diego goldenstar by transplanting them in other areas. Light will be directed out of remaining wilderness areas “whenever feasible.” “To the extent feasible” it will not impact nesting birds and raptors. It will attempt to replicate nature by creating its own vernal pools and transplanting remaining SD fairy shrimp into them. Van Collinsworth: Unfortunately Mr. Ranson has been so busy drinking the developer’s and the mayor’s Kool-Aid that he hasn’t taken the time to review the Environment Impact Report. The developers spin 76% open space because they include Fuel Management Zones extending as far as 160 feet and other impacted/developed spaces without roads and houses.

Structures: Author: The developer’s brochures tout the Fanita Ranch subdivision as a composition of villages, terminology that conjures imagery of quaint cottages from fairy tales, when in fact it will be a monstrous hunk of walls, gates, parking lots, and antiseptic multilevel townhouse boxes that might be better suited for location on a city street rather than in the heart of a wilderness area, that is, if they were attractive. (Since pictures cannot be uploaded in this comments section, I posted on the OB Rag’s FB page a picture of Fanita Ranch structures taken from the Environmental Impact Report.)

School, etc. Author: The only reason a new school would become necessary would be if a megadevelopment were to be constructed. If it were to be, Santee taxpayers would be the ones left funding the development’s school…and its police and fire services.
Trails and Farm. Author: I don’t think that 35 miles of new public trails or farmland is necessarily a good idea.

Swimming. Author: Santee Lakes allows boaters to recreate in the lakes and has a pool for swimming.

Fanita Parkway. Author: From the Environmental Impact Report: EIR 3.4.1.4 Fanita Parkway The proposed project would improve portions of on-site Fanita Parkway to accommodate the increased project traffic and extend the northern limit of the street to provide a western entry onto the project site. Fanita Parkway currently begins at Carlton Oaks Drive and extends north approximately 1.7 miles until it ends at Ganley Road. The proposed project proposes to widen Fanita Parkway between Mast Boulevard and Lake Canyon Road from an existing two-lane street with no median to a four-lane divided parkway/major arterial with a landscaped median. Bicycle lanes would be provided on the eastern (northbound) and western (southbound) sides of the street and, in combination with a buffer, act as emergency lanes for first responders in the event of an emergency or evacuation. A multi-purpose trail would be provided on the western side of the street. Parking along Fanita Parkway would be limited to emergency parking only. Van Collinsworth: The biological preserve would be a fragmented 62.5% of the site with wildlife subjected to road kill on – yes – 4-lane segments of Fanita Parkway with “significant and unavoidable “ noise impacts.

Santee City Council Study. Van Collinsworth: The city council knew exactly what they were doing to hire the developers consultant to perform a study. They were so eager to delay the vote that they didn’t even bother to ask the cost before approving it. The council would later find out that the propaganda piece used to delay the democratic process cost resident taxpayers $40k for delay.

Finally, Santee voters overwhelmingly rejected a 3,000-unit Fanita Ranch project in a referendum organized by Preserve Wild Santee volunteers. The courts defeated the next development attempt. Residents are wondering why developer contributions can purchase another bite at the apple.

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Avatar Mike July 11, 2020 at 10:02 pm

Thank you for finding it necessary to rebut my comments. It is interesting that an additional interview with Mr. Collinsworth, the Director of the Political Action Committee, Preserve Wild Santee was conducted so that he could respond to me (or really, personally insult me because of my support for the project.)

“The 76% preserve”—your rebuttal is essentially a difference of opinion so I will leave it at that. Mr. Collingsworth finds it necessary to insult me first and then declare he knows how much time I have spent reviewing the EIR. This is his typical tactic of division. Those that support the project drink too much Kool-Aid or maybe we are “shills” for the developer. Supporters also might be secret political operatives that are paid by the developer. It’s even worse if you are a political opponent of this PAC. All political opponents of this PAC are corrupt and lining their pockets with donations from developers, the BIA and even the San Diego Deputy Sherriff’s Association. Yes, he claims that the Sherriff’s organization launders money for developers. https://www.facebook.com/PreserveWildSantee/posts/10158151416969294

“Structures”—again, your rebuttal is essentially a difference of opinion.

“School”—mostly opinion. Valid (and obvious) point the school may be needed because of the development. My opinion is that it is a good thing the developer will build this school if our school district tells them they want it. Yes, Santee taxpayers will be paying for school and fire—the Santee taxpayers that move into Fanita Ranch when it is built.

“Trails and Farm”—thanks for the opinion. I love the idea of 35 miles of public trails that are maintained and safe to use. I really love the idea of the farm for all of Santee. I actually spent a half day at the concept farm for this project and found it an exciting amenity. Events, new gathering spaces, community farm stand with farm to table dining are all possible in the new plan for Fanita Ranch. We’ll have to agree to disagree on whether this is a good idea.

“Swimming”—true, Santee Lakes has peddle boats for use but right now only 6 are in use because of COVID19. They are on Lake 7 for campers in the cabins only and I suppose you might have seen one on your way to the trail. Regarding the pool, maybe I misunderstood because your original oped said “this past Saturday” and “filled with families happily swimming…” This past Saturday was the 4th of July and my wife and I were actually camping. We love the Lakes. Anyway, because of the Patriotic Golf Cart Parade that took place near the pool, no swimming was going on. I guess I also incorrectly assumed that you actually saw families happily swimming because that is not possible to do from anywhere outside the campground. My mistake.

“Fanita Parkway”—Thank you for correcting the original error. You originally stated, “the sleepy northern end of two-lane Fanita Parkway will be turned into four lanes, two in each direction, with a raised strip in the middle.” These are the facts so there is no confusion. Fanita Parkway will remain two lanes from Carlton Hills Blvd to Mast Blvd. From Mast Blvd to Lake Canyon you have the correct info in your rebuttal. From Lake Canyon to Ganley Road, the road will reduce to one lane north with two lanes south along with a wide landscaped median. From Ganley to the project, Fanita Parkway will be extended as a two lane road up and into the project. All this can be seen at the link I posted above.

“Santee City Council Study”—Van Collinsworth’s response is a matter of his opinion and also inaccurate. “They were so eager to delay the vote that they didn’t even bother to ask the cost before approving it. The council would later find out that the propaganda piece used to delay the democratic process cost resident taxpayers $40k for delay.” Again, opinion and inaccurate. This item was on the agenda along with the cost. It was discussed and commented on before it was approved by the Council. I suggest that you reference pg 314 of the Aug 22, 2018 agenda here: https://www.cityofsanteeca.gov/home/showdocument?id=17047 What is factual is that the responsibility for time management and planning the signature gathering to make certain that an initiative makes it to the ballot falls on the proponents of the initiative. Mr. Collinsworth is an experienced political activist and has been the Director of a registered Political Action Committee for a couple decades so, in my opinion, it is odd that this mistake was made.

“Finally” this statement is disputed by many and it was a completely different plan for Fanita Ranch with a huge footprint.

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Avatar Nikki July 12, 2020 at 4:22 am

I grew up in Bonita and now live on the Lakeside/Santee border. This is another Otay Ranch disaster in the making! They are going to RUIN what little bit of rural we have left. Personally, I moved out here in the 90’s to get away from Eastlake (better known as East Mistake) because of the peace & quiet here vs. the high crime, traffic, ugly clone housing, crowded schools, depletion of the trails and hiking areas. To see the same $#!+ happening in Santee is disgusting. The City Council should only get a say IF THEY LIVE HERE! And we SHOULD get to vote!!! As if the rent, cost of living & traffic isn’t bad enough…..now you are going to build more overpriced, ugly, every 5 feet another clone houses?! And how are people going to evacuate during fire season?! The City ought to be ashamed of itself for even considering this!

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Avatar James A Souder July 12, 2020 at 8:45 am

Who can we talk to about buying the land to remain as it is and keep it for those of us who live the hikes. We need to start buying the land and keep it from developers..

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Avatar Eric July 12, 2020 at 11:46 am

Sound more like Mike is getting money in some form from the developers of this crap pile of a development. It improves nothing because it in a tucked away corner of the community. One way in and one way out. It’s a fire hazard, traffic hazard and once the developers done they going to leave the community with all the bills. We got nothing from the recent home built across from West Hills High. Only people benefiting from this is the developer.

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Avatar Mike July 12, 2020 at 3:08 pm

I took a walk on the Weston Trail recently and I discovered the nature did not realize that all of those native shrubs, California Sycamores and other trees were purposefully planned and planted by Pardee. Nature did not seem to mind that their habitat was watered with recycled water and maintained by HOA fees. I wish I could post pictures here. My wife and I met a woman that said she lived below Weston on Pebble Beach. “At first we hated this project (then Castle Rock) but this is amazing and we can’t wait to use the park.”

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Avatar P C October 26, 2020 at 5:34 pm

Weston community, I still hate them being built. I can’t really see the Hills anymore but instead have to look at someone’s backyard. It angered me when I would have Realtors coming to my house wanting to know if I wanted to sell my house. Developers & Realtors are only for the money, they could give a d.. for the people who have to live with it. it’s so sad how this world is today.

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